UMass Amherst Alumni Association to Present 2015 Distinguished Alumni Awards at Massachusetts State House

Sonia Nieto
Sally Powers

AMHERST, Mass. – The UMass Amherst Alumni Association has announced the 2015 recipients of its most prestigious recognition for alumni, faculty and friends: the Distinguished Alumni Awards. Alumni Association president Andrew MacDougall will present the awards at noon on Thursday, April 23 in the Great Hall at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. 

The honorees are:

Pierre R. Bushel ’84, Distinguished Alumni Award

A staff scientist in the Biostatistics and Computational Biology Branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of the National Institutes of Health), Bushel has made an exemplary career out of extracting raw data from the human genome, analyzing it with computational algorithms and using the information to shed light on how toxicants and other environmental stressors affect human genes and diseases such as cancer. Bushel’s primary research interests are in toxicogenomics and identifying the properties of combinations of possible cancer therapeutics.

Sonia Nieto ’79 Ed.D., Distinguished Alumni Award

Nieto is a professor emerita of language, literacy and culture in the UMass Amherst College of Education. She has devoted her professional life to questions of diversity, equity and social justice in education and is the author of the best-selling textbook “Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education.” The book is used in teacher education programs around the world and is credited with defining the education field during the 20th century because of its wide range of research and approach to difficult theoretical issues.

Beth Davalos ’90, Distinguished Alumni Service Award

Davalos is the founder of Families in Transition (FIT), a program in Florida’s Seminole County Public Schools that has helped more than 14,000 homeless children stay in school. She started FIT 13 years ago to provide homeless children and their families assistance with enrolling and access to transportation, emergency housing, school supplies, free breakfast and lunch, tutoring and referrals to local service agencies. Davalos has been featured on CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes and other national and local news programs, focusing the public’s attention on the plight of homeless and hungry children.

Rafael Guzman ’88: Distinguished Alumni Service Award

The president and owner of RM Technologies Inc., Guzman is an innovative and visionary businessman who believes that a comprehensive education with a multicultural and global vision is the key to success. Guzman is deeply committed to service in his Lawrence, Mass., community and has built a reputation providing opportunities for underprivileged youths to improve their lives through education. In 2012, he created the RM Technologies, Inc. Scholarship in the UMass Amherst College of Engineering, which awards $5,000 to students from underprivileged backgrounds who exhibit a strong desire to improve their lives through education.

Gary Bernice ’07, ’10 M.A.: Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Bernice is the director of the High School of Science and Technology music department in Springfield, Mass. Using a transformative teaching philosophy, Bernice built a community of musicians at a school that had no music program and a high dropout rate. Through his leadership and determination, the 1,700-student school now has more than 500 band members, many of whom had never played a musical instrument before. Bernice and the band are the subjects of a 2015 documentary about how the director empowered students to become “the Pride of Springfield.”

Sally Powers: Distinguished Faculty Award

Powers is a professor of psychological and brain sciences and the associate dean for faculty and research in the UMass Amherst College of Natural Sciences. Her internationally recognized research on depression in adolescents and young adults has shown how stress in family relationships negatively affects physiological systems governing hormones related to depression differently for teenage girls and boys. Powers joined the UMass Amherst faculty in 1988, guided the development of the Child, Adolescent and Family Program in clinical science and served as director of the Center for Research on Families.

Event sponsors include Mercer Consumer, a service of Mercer Health & Benefits Administration LLC, and Coca-Cola, with sponsor contributions supporting the UMass Amherst Alumni Association’s Leaders in the Making Scholarship Endowment Fund.

The UMass Amherst Alumni Association represents and serves a network of more than 248,000 alumni worldwide, and reflects an active and powerful community that generates positive outcomes for the university. For more than 141 years, the Alumni Association has played an integral role in the university’s success and mounting reputation. The association serves as a gateway for students and alumni to build relationships with each other and the university. Through campus traditions, alumni networks, awards and scholarships, professional development programs and volunteer opportunities, the Alumni Association creates an engaging environment that enriches the student and alumni experience.